Book Review: Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

Two of my favourite TV shows ever are Six Feet Under and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So when I heard that the creator of Six Feet Under was helming a show about vampires, I had to check it out. As predicted, I enjoyed the crap out of True Blood, which lead me to impulsively buy the series of books that it’s based on.

The first book starts off with a great opening line: “I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.” Immediately from there, it launches into the story of Sookie Stackhouse, a Southern small-town waitress with two disabilities: the curse of having to read peoples’ minds, and a really stupid name. The first one is what first draws her to the vampire, because she can’t read his mind, which she thinks is awesome because men are scum and they only think terrible things. And although not mentioned, the stupid name problem probably helps her to relate to Bill, which is a pretty dumb name for a vampire. After she meets him, people start dying, hell breaks loose, etc etc. You know the drill.

True Bl Dead Until Dark is written in a first-person style from Sookie’s perspective, and indeed the novel feels like the rambling diary of a realistic, naive young woman who isn’t particularly good at writing, being full of awkward sentences and tactless exposition. This either means: (1) Charlaine Harris is really good at simulating how much Sookie sucks at writing; or (2) Charlaine Harris just sucks at writing.

But let’s just pretend it’s (1) and focus on the positive. Partly because of the informal first-person style, Sookie’s personality comes through, and the little expressions she uses and social conventions she frets over help to bring the Southern setting to life. I could’ve done without her agonizing over what to wear in every single chapter and the sickening mind-games she casually manipulates the males in her life with, but intentional or not, she at least seems like a flawed, real (albeit stereotypically female) person.

There is a murder mystery that ties each chapter together, but the characters seem more interested in short-term questions about cleaning the house, work timetables, and vampire ejaculation than about who’s killing their friends and families. Some chapters can feel separated from the rest of the story, as if nobody remembers what came before. As a single book it’s disjointed, and actually feels a bit like a big pilot episode, with dangling plot elements that exist only to set up future installments. But since there are plenty of future installments, and there is a TV series based on it, this episodic storytelling isn’t entirely unwelcome.

The novel departs from the first season of True Blood in quite a few significant ways. Most obvious is the complete lack of Tara in the novel, the alternate reason for Bill’s little trip late in the book, and the ending. There is also one plot element missing from the show, which is a great thing because, while I hate to use this word, it can only be described as retarded. Without giving anything away, it starts with “B”; anyone who’s read it will know what I’m talking about. True Blood also added a few entirely new subplots that I thought worked as well, if not better, than what was from the novel. This gives me hope for the show, because many of the show’s flaws were inherited from the book, and the creators’ willingness to depart from it can only bode well for future seasons.

Perhaps I’ve been a bit snarky in describing Dead Until Dark, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. It’s not a masterfully told story, but it does a few new things with the crowded vampire genre, and has just enough sex and violence to provide some cheap thrills. I recommend it for fans of the show looking to see what inspired it, or anyone else who likes cheesy vampire crap.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Living Dead in Dallas, by Charlaine Harris « Mike Battista’s Blog

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Club Dead, by Charlaine Harris « Mike Battista’s Blog

  3. Every aspect of this review rings true and I found myself agreeing with your criticsm every step of the way. Whenever I describe (or think of) Harris’s writing or books, a toddler with a laptop and “Word of the Day” calendar comes to mind. Charlaine Harris obtains no level of brilliance, and while I was introduced to the series (that I absolutley adore although I could do without the exagerrated gore) and followed through with the episodes until I had to wait ’til Sunday for answers I relented and went to the oh so fabulous books.

    I was in for a huge blow of a shock when I saw that Harris is a horrible writer! I swear her poorly crafted words and plot scarred my eyes. Somewhere near the middle of the tenth book it was either that I scratched my eyes out from the unjust torture or stopped. Harris dragged on the painfully long series of books by throwing in a reason for Bill meeting Sookie and acting like she was some marvelous puppet master that had planned just that all along! I had been so excited when I had tapped into a random blog and saw that Sookie was somehow related to (spoilers everybody, step back) fairies. And that was honestly the only reason besides knowing what would happen in the TV show for ever starting the treacherous books.

    I mostly skipped around the pages of the first few books because Harris’s words were painfully pointless. But as I came across things that I recognized in various episodes of True Blood I realized how genius the director of the TV show is! (To think I had been giving bloody Harris all the credit…her coming up with those things is just ridiculous). I don’t like to bag on people but whatever idiotic publishing company that allowed Harris’s disaster of a book into the amazing world of genius and novels should be “drained.” Not even the overall story of the books put together sufficed as an enthralling read as it was clearly meant to be.

    If Harris intended for the books to come across as brilliant, page-flipping, addicting reads then she failed, miserably.

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